Legendary vibraphonist Lionel Hampton auditioned Italian-born vocalist Sylvia Bennett in the early '80s, hired her on the spot to sing with his band, and subsequently recorded two albums with her. The first, Sentimental Journey, received a Grammy Award nomination, but the second, recorded in 1989 when Hamp was a frisky eighty years old, sat neglected for reasons unknown ever since and is only now being heard for the first time. And it's high time, too.
To state the case as clearly as possible, the album is a sheer delight. Hamp plays marvelously in front of a large ensemble comprised of south Florida's finest sidemen, and Bennett weighs in with charming vocals on seven tracks, including two contrasting versions of "You Make My Heart Sing (the second marred by electronic gimmickry and pointless commentary by Lionel). One can easily hear why Hampton thought so much of Bennett; her diction is crystal-clear, she sings squarely on-key, respects (and sells) a lyric, and even though she's essentially a pop singer, she knows how to swing when necessary. Oh, and she has a really nice voice.
The album alternates between vocals and instrumentals, with Hamp taking almost all the solos on the latter, which include "Just One of Those Things, "Cookin' in the Kitchen, "Beulah's Boogie, "It Might as Well Be Spring, "Red Top and "Someday. Bennett is warm and enchanting, especially on "Another You, a Brazilian-flavored "Bill Bailey and "Together. Good as the album is, however, there's even more to savora thirty-minute companion DVD that explains more fully how the albums came about and shows Hamp and Bennett in action, so to speak (even though a large part of the footage has obviously been re-created, Bennett is lip-synching the lyricssome in Hamp's kitchen!and several clips of Lionel leading his band were clearly borrowed from other sources and are unrelated to these sessions).
There are, however, brief but engaging scenes (and stills) of Hamp's band in concert with Bennett as vocalist (including a date at President Ronald Reagan's inauguration in '86). And we learn, for example, that Hamp came to Miami after the tracks for this album had been recorded, adding his vibe (and piano) solos and backgrounds seamlessly to the mix. Works perfectly too; one couldn't tell from listening that he wasn't there when the band was in the studio. Due credit here to the great work by producer/writer/arranger Hal Batt, who's scarcely mentioned on the album but is prominent on the DVD.
Hampton and Bennett were a perfect fit, their second album together is remarkable, and it's a shame they didn't record together more often. But at least we have this onebetter late than neverand it's a consistently impressive eye-opener.
Just One of Those Things; There Will Never Be Another You; Cookin
Lionel Hampton: leader, vibraphone, synthesizer; Mike Lewis: conductor; Sylvia Bennett:
vocals; Jim Hacker, Brett Murphy, Tony Luschen, John Georgini: trumpet; Neil Bonsanti, Billy
Ross, Chip McNeill, Jeff King, Whit Sidner: reeds; Phil Gray, Tom Garling, Dana Teboe, Greg
Cox: trombone; Hal Batt: keyboards, guitar, bass; Bobby Pancoast: keyboards; Dave Hardman
(1-10,13), Gotz Kujack (11,12): drums; Sammy Figueroa: percussion.
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